City Hall

The City Wants a Quieter Deep Ellum, but Local Businesses Are Pushing Back

To date, eight citations have been issued to three or four businesses in Deep Ellum, according to the city.
To date, eight citations have been issued to three or four businesses in Deep Ellum, according to the city. BrittyGriffy/Wikimedia Commons
Since its inception, Deep Ellum's streets have been filled with the sounds of live music pouring out of bars. Local bartender Jessica Brodsky says that’s how it’s supposed to be. It’s a defining factor of Dallas’ nightlife.

The Uptowning of Deep Ellum is becoming more rapid since the Dallas Code Compliance Services Department began cracking down on noise. Businesses in the area are now sounding the alarm on harsher noise ordinance enforcement that’s resulted in threats of up to $2,000 fines.

According to city code, “No mechanical loudspeaker or sound amplifier may be operated within 150 feet of the property line of the premises of a residence, except between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and sunset, as designated by publication in a local newspaper of general circulation,” and “A mechanical loudspeaker or sound amplifier may not emit loud and disturbing noises so as to interfere with the enjoyment of life or property or to interfere with public peace and comfort.“

While these codes have been in place for years, Deep Ellum residents and venue workers say the laws have been more roughly enforced in recent weeks.

According to singer and DJ Dezi 5, who hosts events at various venues, Deep Ellum spots Wit’s End, Green Room and Three Links were hit with notices of violation of the city’s noise ordinances on Sunday, June 27.

“I normally have a rooftop party every Tuesday,” he says, “now we’ve been having to stay inside because of the code of compliance.”

Businesses and venues face a challenge trying to comply with city code, as the metrics and definition of “noise” are vague, which makes enforcement subjective. This prompted Brodsky, a bartender at The Green Room and Three Links, to create a petition prompting Dallas City Council to address “measurable and achievable metrics for noise.”

“Without measurability and specificity, local concert halls, bars and music venues aren’t able to meet clearly defined rules and enforcement is left to subjective judgment as opposed to objective, quantifiable and clear decision,” the petition reads.

At the time of writing, the petition has received over 2,900 signatures and organizers hope to garner 5,000.

"When I witnessed bars being given written warnings, I jumped on the issue and got [the Deep Ellum Community Association] involved," Brodsky says.

The petition created by Brodsky and Jessie States, both board members of the Deep Ellum Community Association (DECA), has been circulating in an attempt to keep the entertainment district responsibly loud.

“In a district and community that relies on sound as its livelihood, soul and sense of place, Deep Ellum thrives only insomuch as it can exist as an ecosystem of responsible noise,” the petition reads. “Music can and should be heard on the streets and sidewalks of the Deep Ellum neighborhood, without impacting negatively the life experiences of all stakeholders including local residents, patrons and businesses.”

As business owners started recently receiving warnings from code enforcement about noise, it seemed to them that the rules had changed. They didn’t, but the people enforcing them did.

The Dallas Police Department has started sharing some of its previous responsibilities with the city’s code enforcement staff — the idea being we can’t police our way out of all of the city’s problems. Recently, for example, authority over convenience stores was extended to the director of code enforcement. Now, DPD has handed over noise enforcement to code compliance staff.

In an update to the petition, Allen Falkner, who owns The Nines, wrote that he recently learned from city officials that police were more lenient in its handling of noise complaints in the area. Falkner says they told him code enforcement is now just “following the letter of the law, which was not done in the past.”

Falkner, who is also a board member of DECA, speculated that the rise in noise complaints and code enforcement is the effect of crowds getting reaccustomed to the noise following the reopening of venues and bars.

"Understandably, this could be jarring from some,” Falkner wrote in his post. “However, as has been said many times before, this is an entertainment district. Sound is just part of living, working [and] visiting Deep Ellum.”

He also wrote that he learned that many of the complaints are coming from businesses in the area, as opposed to residents.

According to Dallas city code, “A person commits an offense if he makes or causes to be made any loud and disturbing noise or vibration in the city that is offensive to the ordinary sensibilities of the inhabitants of the city."

A violation could be the result of “[t]he use of any drum or other instrument or sound-amplifying equipment for the purpose of attracting attention by the creation of noise, to any performance, show, sale, or display of merchandise as to attract customers to any place of business,” according to city code.

Eric Onyechefule, public information coordinator with code compliance, said by email, “Due to several noise complaints received from residents regarding neighboring entertainment venues, in April 2021, Code Compliance began educating business owners on noise ordinances.”

Code officers are in Deep Ellum and other entertainment districts citywide to stop illegal vending and noise.

“To date, only nine citations have been issued to three or four businesses in Deep Ellum,” the city added. In a follow-up email, Onyechefule said the number of citations was eight.

In the phone call with city officials, Falkner was told that a bulk of the noise complaints were coming from neighboring businesses, which surprised and frustrated him.

“If we are going to make changes and/or updates to the code, businesses need to support one another,” he wrote.

Falkner said City Council member Jesse Moreno, whose district includes Deep Ellum, and the rest of the council know about the problem and are working on a solution. In a meeting scheduled for Thursday, Moreno, who did not respond to our request for comment, and venue owners will discuss how to move forward.

But there's a potential obstacle: City Council is in recess for the summer. Members won’t resume their normal session until August.

“So, July is going to be tough,” Falkner wrote. “My best advice at this point is to sign the petition and work together to self-regulate.”

“In a district and community that relies on sound as its livelihood, soul and sense of place, Deep Ellum thrives only insomuch as it can exist as an ecosystem of responsible noise.” – petition

tweet this

Other Deep Ellum employees and residents said they are more bothered by vehicular noise and other non-music-related sounds. JJ Guzman, a security manager in Deep Ellum, says he wasn’t aware of the noise ordinance until recently.

Guzman has worked in Deep Ellum more than four years and believes code compliance has been “targeting certain bars.”

“The restaurant I work for got a warning one time last month,” Guzman says, “but since then we’ve been complying,"

Guzman says the venue where he works hasn’t received another warning since they’ve turned the music down.

“If they really want to go after noise, it should be from loud vehicles that drive by with loud exhaust and sound system," he says. "The police clearly don’t do anything about it.”

Although noise caused by music may be a nuisance to some, it’s less dangerous than the noise resulting from reckless driving and other actions in the neighborhood. In the days leading up to the Fourth of July and shortly after, residents reported hearing fireworks launched in the area.

“Noise can’t physically hurt me,” says Deep Ellum resident Ian Saint. “My home and/or body getting struck by a rogue firework lit in close proximity could be catastrophic. Getting hit by reckless drivers, getting mugged — a concern heightened by impending implementation of permit-less carry — those far exceed my concerns about music venues being noisy. When I moved to Deep Ellum, I anticipated music venues being noisy.”

Deep Ellum resident Veronica Young also anticipated loud music when she first moved to the neighborhood. She says she sometimes uses a noise machine in her home when she feels overwhelmed by the neighborhood noise, but can’t imagine going to a show at Three Links or any of her other favorite venues and watching acts perform at limited volumes.

She suggests that anyone taking issue with noise from venues move to the suburbs and not complain about a neighborhood centered on art and music.

“We are getting an influx of wannabe cool kids ready to show off their new pads, but not willing to understand or even comprehend that what they refer to as loud noise is the heart and true livelihood of Deep Ellum,” Young says. “It’s supposed to be loud. That’s the point. That’s why I moved here. ... I don’t feel it’s up to the club next door to me to adjust its volume to cater to my sleep. It’s baffling to me that anyone would ask that, especially in this neighborhood.”
KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Alex Gonzalez has been a contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2018. He is a Dallas native whose work has appeared in Local Profile, MTV News and the Austin American-Statesman. He has eclectic taste in music and enjoys writing about art, food and culture.
Contact: Alex Gonzalez
Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn